#Maestro PR Blog- MEPTEC’s Look at MEMS: An Old Stealth Market Emerges

While EUV, graphene, FinFETs and silicon wafers larger than your extra-large loaded pizza grab industry headlines, some technologies march along – out of the spotlight but into familiar products used every day.  Micro-electro mechanical systems, or “MEMS”, are one such technology. 


 At MEPTEC’s (www.meptec.org) MEMS symposium held recently in San Jose, it was clear that MEMS have not just gained traction in a variety of applications, they are making significant headway into the marketplace through increasing numbers of applications. 


Two factors are aiding the MEMS market: First, there’s a  ready manufacturing base which includes more than half the Fab Owners Association (FOA) membership. Second, the realities of stalled technology advancements in materials, processing and plain old physics in advanced micro-scaled silicon semiconductors are inspiring device makers, start-ups, innovators, and – according to symposium speakers – investors -- to take a closer look at what MEMS can deliver today.


MEPTEC MEMS speakers gave forthright assessments on the status of design challenges, manufacturing, packaging, metallurgical and material considerations, applications and today and near-future markets.  Progress is well underway in each of these categories. Packaging innovation seems to have made the most progress, but then this symposium was hosted by the packaging industry’s organization.


From my marketing perspective, the allure of MEMS is that they can be fabricated in volume using what I call today-technologies.  Established device-makers already offer MEMS fabrication processes, so innovators have the ready  manufacturing infrastructure they need to move to market in good time.  


Instead of focusing on the “glamorous”  topics (okay, nothing is that glamorous about tech, but you get the idea) dominating today’s headlines, like EUV, etc. mentioned above and other airy promises unfilled because of physics, MEMS can solve problems today.  And when problems are solved, markets are born and grow.


MEMS have the right market qualities: 

  1. MEMS utilize today-technologies. Already stated. MEMS can be manufactured today using available technologies like sensors, etc.  Innovators are looking to incorporate MEMS on the same substrate as their silicon counterpart, but I don’t see that as a show-stopper. It’s a technology problem already being addressed.
  2. MEMS can deliver a better price point. Because they are manufactured in volume “lots” or “batches”, like regular silicon semiconductors.  Plus, they rely on mature and, therefore, proven device manufacturing.
  3. Manufacturing expertise and infrastructure exist now. More than half the FOA members already support MEMS manufacturing with 6” and 8” wafers. These members are IDMs, or integrated device manufacturers. They are manufacturing experts with front-end design knowledge, production know-how, and expertise in the back-end tasks of assembly, packaging and test. This means MEMS designers/companies have a ready infrastructure.
  4. MEMS can deliver high performance in areas where a single chip can’t. This is the heart of MEMS as “devices”. They are micro-systems that can do what one scaled integrated circuit can’t, or what it is too expensive to do in one chip.
  5. MEMS already support a wide variety of applications. And companies are identifying others.


Meptec MEMS symposium speakers identified a multitude of current and future market categories and specific applications: automobiles, consumer goods, flow rates, general medical and medical imaging, paper detection, UAVs and obstacle detection.


To get an idea of the MEMS market size, I checked in with Tony Massimini, chief of technology at Semico Research (www.semico.com).   Massimini says the 2013 market for MEMS was $16.1 billion dollars, or 5.2% of the total global semiconductor sales.   These figures reflect MEMS that are key components for sensing, and other functions in smart phones, tablets, autos, and other products in consumer, communications, computing and industrial applications.  Massimini estimates that sector growth could reach $28.5 B by 2018, with the majority of sales from inertial motion sensors (gyroscopes, accelerometers and magnetometers) and pressure sensors.

Nothing about tech is easy. Consider that 20 years ago, you relied on a fax machine instead of the internet if you needed information quickly. You read the daily newspaper. You needed to pump serious iron in order to carry a computer. Too long ago?  Okay. Ten years ago you were using a digital camera for photos. Your ear buds were clumsy enough to take out your hearing. And your desk still had a fax machine on it.


MEMS Work Now.

MEMS hold promise for nurturing new applications and products by utilizing available technologies today at the same time it innovates for tomorrow.  Challenges do persist. The MEMS industry needs to find a way to produce MEMS on silicon substrates, but I don’t see that as showstopper. Universities, think-tanks and new companies are hard at work on this task.


The device substrate answers will come, as will new applications. Maybe not tomorrow, but the symposium left me convinced the minds behind the products are running very fast to bring solutions to market. I believe they can do it.


For more information on MEMS you can check out these sites:

~Barbara Kalkis, ©Maestro Marketing & Public Relations.